REVIEW: Ruger American 9mm Pistol

Lots of handguns work well for various defense applications. Clockwise from the upper left: Makarov .380, S & W .357, Glock 19, Ruger SR-9. In the center, the new Ruger American.

As some will be aware, the F.B.I. made the decision to switch back to the 9mm from the .40 S & W. The 9mm Luger or “9x19” round usually offers a higher round count per magazine, faster follow-up shots, more accurate follow-up shots, less recoil, and very similar physical wounding characteristics to the .40 S&W.

Previously reviewed was the Ruger SR-9.

  • Model Number: 3301

  • Caliber: 9mm Luger

  • Capacity 17+1

  • Slide Material Stainless Steel

  • Barrel Length 4.14"

  • Grip Frame Black, High Performance, Glass-Filled Nylon

  • Slide Finish Brushed Stainless

  • Width 1.27"

  • Sights Adjustable 3-Dot

  • Weight 26.5 oz.

  • Overall Length 7.50"

  • Height 5.52"

  • Grooves 6

  • Twist 1:10" RH

  • Suggested Retail $569.00

This is how the specs shape up on the Ruger American.

Model Number: 8605

  • Caliber: 9mm Luger

  • Capacity 17+1

  • Slide Material Stainless Steel

  • Barrel Length 4.20"

  • Grip Frame One-Piece, High-Performance, Glass-Filled Nylon

  • Grips Ergonomic Wrap-Around Grip Module

  • Slide Finish Black Nitride

  • Width 1.40"

  • Sights Novak® LoMount Carry 3-Dot

  • Weight 30 oz.

  • Overall Length 7.50"

  • Height 5.60"

  • Grooves 6

  • Twist 1:10" RH

  • Suggested Retail $579.00

There is good reason to go with a standard capacity (17 + 1) round 9mm handgun. Capacity is beneficial to the lighter shooters, and also to the senior citizens where dropping a magazine to reload is problematic. The folks that are the softest, most vulnerable targets to crime are often the ones that can benefit the most by 17 – 20 round capacity pistols and standard capacity 30 round rifles. It is ridiculous to rename a 17 round 9mm as a “high capacity” handgun. The 9 x 19 round from Georg Luger has been produced since 1902.

A polymer-framed 9mm pistol is part of a crowded market, for in addition to these two Rugers we have the illustrious Glock 17, Walther PPQ, Springfield XD, FN FNX-9, and many more. More and more, modern pistols are starting to look like variations of the Glock 17, which began production back in 1982. None of them are breathtakingly gorgeous, although some like to waste their time debating this. Highly polished plastic made by “Old World Craftsmen” does not usually work well.

In the Ruger American, instead of the SR-9 approach of using a reversible insert (the “unique reversible backstrap”) as per Patent US 7827719, the interchangeable backstrap system is employed: three are supplied. The back of the backstraps and the front of the frame are stippled, more or less, so they do provide a non-slip, secure hold. I found the trigger of the Ruger American to be better than the SR9: its reset requires less travel and it breaks cleaner.

Although bulkier and heavier, the Ruger American Pistol finally gets rid of the nonsensical, worthless safeties of the SR-9, loses the magazine disconnect, the pop-up “loaded chamber indicator,” but does have a less obnoxious loaded chamber viewport. The Ruger American feels solid, doesn't rattle, and it is smoother to rack the slide on the American than on the SR-9.

According to Ruger's Brandon Trevino, the Ruger American has done 25,000 rounds of NATO ammunition without breaking anything. This handily exceeds the well-known Austrian Ministry of Defence criteria of 1980 that resulted in the big win for Glock, in particular:

“After firing 15,000-rounds of standard ammunition, the pistol will be inspected for wear. The pistol will then be used to fire an overpressure test cartridge generating 5,000 bar (500MPa; 73,000 psi). (The normal maximum operating pressure Pmax for the 9mm NATO is rated at 2,520 bar (252MPa; 36,500 psi). The critical components must continue to function properly and be up to specifications, otherwise the pistol will be disqualified."

While I have no qualms whatsoever about the build quality and durability of the Ruger American, I do appreciate the easy dis-assembly, the trigger is excellent, and little tidbits like not having to dryfire the pistol to disassemble it are niceties, if a matter of trivia, I'm left with a less than stellar feeling about the gun. It isn't the accuracy, for it is essentially a three inch 25 yard gun with the right ammo, a far greater distance than what most would consider self-defense. The problem is the grip, it is just too wide, and not comfortable.

By direct comparison, the Ruger SR-9 (that I've been shooting for five years by now) is about a quarter pound lighter, yet far softer-shooting. While both of these handguns are full-size “service pistol” envelope guns, the SR-9 is slimmer, lighter, and a lot more comfortable and just plain fun to shoot. As a nightstand gun or something for a vehicle, full-sized 9mm pistols are excellent. For easy concealed carry, models such as the Ruger LC9s Pro and the Walther PPS M2 make a lot more sense, at least to me.

I don't like making hard and fast recommendations for self-defense handguns, as a very wide berth has to be given to personal preference. Over the last 25 years, the main self-defense pistols I've relied on have been two very common models: the Glock 19 and a straight blow-back fixed barrel Baikal “Markarov” chambered in .380 ACP. The Makarov is the only pistol I've ever been forced to actually use for self-defense.

The fundamentals for a good self-defense piece haven't changed. Of course it has to be reliable with modern self-defense type loads, something my old Walther P-38 never was, nor were my Mauser HSc examples. Of course, in addition to reliability, it has to be sufficiently accurate for your needs. Beyond that, it is an intensely personal choice, for we don't all wear (or like) the same gloves, so the gun has to fit your hand, not the hands of others, and the trigger, sights, and controls have to suit you, personally, not anyone else. For any personal item, try before you buy is (by far) the best path, for renting a gun at your local pro shop and sending rounds down range is going to answer personal preferences for you far more quickly and usefully than anything else.

The good thing, in general, about Ruger is that when they release a major model, they do it in a big way, and a very large number of aftermarket accessories quickly appear to make the gun “your gun.” Though Ruger has no written warranty, they have a superb record of standing behind their product, and if it ever breaks, Ruger just plain takes care of it.

Although Ruger appears poised to became a larger player in the “service pistol / combat pistol” market with the Ruger American, whether you find it to be the right choice for you, or not, is going to be contingent on how you feel about the current three-backstrap system and how well it feels to you when you shoot it. It does not fit my hand particularly well and, according to my hands the Ruger American is not as comfortable to shoot as other models, including the Ruger SR-9.



Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.


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